Since meeting him three years ago, I have been a big fan of Sam Singleton – not only for his presence on stage and ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand, but also for his character off of it. I’ve extended him the invitation to submit a few pieces to this blog. I’d love it to be a bi-weekly column, but he’s hella busy and always on the road so I’ll take what I can get.
Here’s his first submission. If you’ve never been to one of Sam’s shows, I highly recommend trying to get to one (there’s one coming up in Omaha this Friday!). If you’re running an event and looking for someone who consistently brings the house down, you should consider bringing him.
Brother Sam is of the opinion that each of us has a role to play in what I’ll refer to as the secular movement—the struggle to reduce the influence of superstition in our society and culture. Our personalities, styles, strengths, areas of influence, uniquely suit each of us to a particular role in helping bring about the future we imagine for ourselves and our posterity. Plenty of people I admire are as different from me in each of those areas as they can be (without being theists). I say God bless ‘em.
Now, there’s an example of irony. Brother Sam is big on irony; thus the name Sam Singleton Atheist Evangelist. Ironic. I think of it as a shibboleth. If your sense of irony is not up to “atheist evangelist,” it is not likely to appreciate the rest of the package. In fact, I have on good authority that Brother Sam leaves some atheists (a tiny tiny fraction) cold. Go figure. Fuck ‘em.Of course, there are many forms of irony, and Brother Sam regularly employs every one of them. But atheist evangelist, like God bless ‘em, makes use of the form defined by Merriam-Webster as: “ the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning.” That it happens to annoy the very people I don’t mind annoying is an added benefit. It pleases me to imagine that Brother Sam’s words confuse the dim and amuse the bright.
Likewise with mockery. I’d be proud to have this particular definition of mockery applied to any of Brother Sam’s shows or books. “ . . . a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn . . . trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.” That is what I aspire to. Goddamn.
So when I am asked if what Brother Sam does isn’t mere mockery, I am, in part, pleased to embrace that ascription. But, to borrow from Too Big for God, I reject the notion that there is anything mere about mockery in the face of immense political and cultural might. In the face of such as that, one grabs whatever equalizer falls to hand. And no conceit is so grandiose that mockery cannot reduce it to a manageable size. Mockery is the blunt instrument with which we render superstition insensible; satire is the scalpel with which we perform its vivisection.
I will note, in closing, that satire, mockery, ridicule, sarcasm, and scorn, are the rightful province of those on the lower end of a hierarchy of power. When atheists outnumber theists I’ll consider dispensing with such rhetorical devices. Until then, God bless ‘em.